Published: February 20, 2014
Last year, the Colorado High School Activities Association started a new era in high school lacrosse, splitting its 60 members from a unified class to 5A and 4A.
Coaches, mainly from smaller schools, applauded the move, citing the need to grow the game and put more modest programs on a similar playing field.
While high school hockey in Colorado sports only 29 teams, some coaches argue their sport could use an additional classification to fix competitive balance and keep interest growing across the board.
"The last thing a high school player wants is to not feel they're in a competitive situation," Cherry Creek coach Jeff Mielnicki said. "We have two things going. We want the premier players to play high school hockey. But you don't want to lose nonpremier players because premier players are playing in high school."
In the recently completed regular season, there was a drastic drop-off among CHSAA teams. The top five teams in the Foothills League - Ralston Valley, Monarch, Resurrection Christian, Cherry Creek and Dakota Ridge - had only 10 losses between them. Over in the Peak Conference, Mountain Vista and Lewis-Palmer had a combined 35-3 record.
Then, there's everybody else. At the other end, the 13 schools that didn't qualify for the playoffs combined for a staggering 176 losses.
"There are probably six teams right now that are at the top, then it kind of falls off from there," Mountain Vista coach Lev Cohen said. "It's unfortunate that it's that way. We're kind of at an in-between point. What do you do?"
With no realistic scenario that sees hockey ever growing to 60 teams, it has been suggested that the CHSAA consider a model used by the English Premier League, putting the top teams in 5A and relegating the struggling schools into a 4A class.
It makes sense, especially for those schools on the bottom end of things right now.
"Any time you can have a team or group on the same playing field, you're going to benefit," said Coronado athletic director Dave Howard, who watched the Cougars hockey team drop all 19 games, scoring only 13 goals in the process. "We knew this would be a trying year with a bunch of rebuilding. We had a chance to play down in football and were able to rebuild and grow the program."
For the immediate future, it appears the unified class of hockey will continue.
"We'll need to see more growth in the number of teams," CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann said. "Hockey is showing growth, but I would say in the foreseeable future, we'd probably not see adding another class. In the distant future, you always hope to get there. That means you have more kids playing."